April seasonal notes
The Easter season
Notes, important dates, and other material for April.
Notes for Cycle A
THROUGH THE ANGUISH of Holy Week and the triumph of Easter morning, we arrive at last in the season of the early church. Whether or not this is a letdown depends on what you mean by church. On the one hand, Luke paints a remarkable portrait of a community that lives, grows, expands, and seems to breathe in perfect harmony. Scholars now regard this more as an ideal upheld than a condition actually maintained. We can hear the creaking and groaning of “institution” behind the stage all the while, as in the separation of tasks among the Twelve and the Seven. The path of this young community is never well illuminated, and false steps are taken along the way of church history until the present time. When we doubt the way, our journey of faith is hesitant and slow. When we remember that Jesus is the way, our progress is swift and the road certain. In time every believer realizes that it is not important to know the way, but only to know whom we are following.
WE'VE GOT 44 WEEKS of the year to talk about the challenging road of discipleship and the apocalyptic fate of this passing world. Why not spend the eight Sundays between Easter and Pentecost dwelling on the good news of Jesus Christ? It’s not difficult. There is a lot of good news to go around. And while the justice message is starting to seep in, there are too many churchgoers of all ages who are, to a surprising degree, unevangelized. The moral teaching of the church always found an audience. The social teachings are gaining ground. But moralists and activists who don’t know Jesus Christ are not Christians, whatever else they may be. Our goal is not necessarily to have them leaping out of the pews shouting, “Jesus is Lord!” But it wouldn’t hurt if they actually believed this. Because folks who live as if Jesus is Lord do some pretty amazing work in this world. Preachers included.
Notes for Cycle B
LITURGICAL TIME BEGINS to dance like a spring shower, hiding the dawn of new life in its skirts. Events move with lightning speed as Jesus and his followers approach Jerusalem: The hour of glory is at hand, the bread of life is offered and summarily rejected, and gentle love is assaulted by human brutality. The Son of God is declared a blasphemer; the word of life is put to death. The incongruity of the Passion burns a hole in the heart of history, but eternity with its serene wisdom will build a bridge across this outrage over which sinners will travel till the end of the ages. And so Christians wait with joyful hope, through the centuries, singing alleluia and proclaiming the Risen One. In our celebration of Easter, we declare with the wisdom of Job that “we know our Redeemer lives.”
PASSION IS A TROUBLED MIXTURE of love and suffering for most of us. The very strength of our desire makes carrying it almost unbearable. Yet the Passion of Jesus Christ bears the whole world on his shoulders, through death to new life. How strong must such a love be to draw all of human history into its embrace? Courageous enough to endure it, and powerful enough to surrender to it graciously. The story of the final days of Jesus remains the centerpiece of our gospel, for without the triad of suffering, death, and Resurrection, the message of God’s redemptive love would not be told. The intersecting bars of the cross are the icon of salvation history’s still point, the eye of evil’s storm, the defining moment of God’s compassion. They may know we are Christians by our love, but we know we are Christians in the hour that the cross opens up for us and reveals itself as the doorway through which the hopes of all humanity now pass.
Notes for Cycle C
THE 40 DAYS OF LENT reach their summation in the Passion of Christ and their fulfillment in the feast and season of Easter. For those who commit themselves to the liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum, the tragedy and grandeur of the stories we tell can be breathtaking, as if we are hearing them for the first time. Holy Week is not an obligatory observance, which means that it’s a special time for true believers to be fed.
But it’s also important to note: Just as during the octave of Christmas, the church receives home at this time many who are testing the waters of their faith again, not to mention those who are making a new home in the church through the sacraments of initiation. For both populations, sounding the notes of welcome, openness, and hope are paramount. Christ is risen! His Spirit lives in us! All are invited to celebrate the joyful message of Easter.
"APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH,” according to T. S. Eliot. This year the preacher might agree, and not simply because the month begins with Holy Week. Passion Sunday coincides with the secular April Fools’ Day, for those who have a devotion to Christ as the Holy Fool, as well as World Youth Day for parishes sponsoring teens. The following Sunday is Easter for all Christians, with a happy intersection for roman and Orthodox believers alike. Next comes Earth Day and then the juxtaposition of Divine Mercy Sunday and Holocaust Memorial Day.
The start of the Easter season, in other words, is chock full of additional observances and crossroads. Did someone suspect that the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus might not be enough to keep us occupied at this time? The usual advice for preachers applies: Stay focused. We don’t have to do it all, and it does not serve the assembly when we attempt to. For Christians, Easter is the prism through which all else is seen.
Spring holy days
APRIL BRINGS some of the most important holidays and celebrations for both Jews and Christians.
Passover takes place from the 15th to the 21st or 22nd day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar. Pesach—the festival of unleavened bread—commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery and the making of a covenant with them.
The central event of Passover is the seder meal, at which special foods and customs symbolize the events of Exodus 12:1-14. This year Passover begins at sunset on April 5, which for Christians is Tuesday of Holy Week, and lasts until April 13, Tuesday of Easter week.
Also this year, in a rare confluence of dates, Easter for both western and east- ern Christians occurs on the same date, April 11. The Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar devised by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., while western churches follow the Gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII promulgated the reform of the Julian calendar in 1582.
Passover and Holy Week
THIS YEAR the Jewish holiday of Passover—the seven-day festival of unleavened bread celebrating the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage—begins at sunset on April 16, the day before Holy Thursday. In the Jewish calendar, Passover always begins on the 15th of Nisan (the evening of the 14th of Nisan).
In the Gospel of John the Last Supper occurs on the evening before Passover. In the synoptic gospels, the Last Supper is the Passover meal.
While not absolutely precise, the date of Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the full moon after the first day of spring (always March 21). Easter falls on different dates in the East and the West because many Eastern Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar—the solar calendar Julius Caesar adopted in 46 B.C. Western churches (Roman Catholic and Protestant) use the Gregorian calendar—the reform of the Julian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
PALM SUNDAY (DIOCESAN)
World Youth Day In 1985, the United Nations International Youth Year, Pope John Paul II met with 300,000 young people in Saint Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday. In December of that year, the pope announced that there would be an annual World Youth Day beginning on the next Palm Sunday. World Youth Day is celebrated every year at the diocesan level and every two or three years by the whole church. The universal church will celebrate the 2019 World Youth Day in January in Panama City.
The Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is thus the culmination of the entire liturgical year. What Sunday is to the week, the solemnity of Easter is to the liturgical year.
The emphasis is on the unity of the days, on not separating the death and Resurrection. From its first years, the church could never speak of or understand one without the other. Triduum is a single celebration.
—Gabe Huck, Liturgy with Style and Grace
Earth Day This is an occasion for grassroots activism for the environment. It was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson, who believed the first Earth Day in 1970 opened the eyes of U.S. politicians to popular support for laws and policies to protect the environment.
All individuals and institutions have a mutual responsibility to act as trustees of Earth, seeking the choices in ecology, economics, and ethics that will eliminate pollution, poverty, and violence, foster peaceful progress, awaken the wonder of life, and realize the best potential for the future of the human adventure.
—From the Earth Magna Charta, by John McConnell, the founder of Earth Day; www.earthsite.org/charta.htm
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
Divine Mercy Sunday Based on revelations to Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905- 1938), a Polish nun who was canonized in 2000, the divine mercy devotion—especially promoted in the papacy of Pope John Paul II—emphasizes God’s mercy and forgiveness and how, we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness.
Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the most merciful Heart of Jesus. I will bear my own suffering in silence. May your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me.
—From a prayer of Saint Faustina